Some of you will have already encountered such a situation. It is very likely you have a child suffering with anxiety in your classroom right now. But knowing how to help students who are suffering from anxiety in the classroom can be difficult. Especially as you don’t want to exacerbate the situation.
It is important to understand that anxiety is not just worrying about trivial things. Anxiety can impact everything from classroom participation, social interaction and exam performance. And often it can present itself in such a way that it can be misdiagnosed as disruptive behaviour, or even as a learning disability.
But anxiety isn’t a child acting up on purpose. It is the nervous system acting on its own free will. The last thing a child wants to hear when experiencing anxiety is a lack of understanding that could lead to punishment and social outcasting.
To help our students reach their full potential, we need to consider their needs in every scenario. This may sound challenging, especially as teaching in ever-growing classrooms can be stressful already. But there are some simple steps you can take when you notice one of your students suffering with anxiety in the classroom. Here are 5…
1. Practice mindfulness in the classroom
Mindfulness is a hot topic right now. But it reaches way beyond social media hype. It has huge benefits for students suffering with anxiety in the classroom. When students with anxiety are feeling overwhelmed, get your whole class to do breathing exercises. Just a few seconds of slow, mindful breathing can help slow down the brain — whilst simultaneously reducing anxiety.
What’s really amazing about practicing mindfulness in the classroom is that it will have a positive impact for all students. Improving focus, concentration, and knowledge retention, breathing exercises will positively impact learning outcomes for everyone.
2. Share your own story
Obviously, not everyone reading this blog will suffer from generalised anxiety disorder. But at some point in your life, you are almost certain to have experienced anxiety in some form. From job interview stress, to exam panic, to entering a new workplace, you know to some extent what anxiety feels like. Sharing these experiences can often benefit students suffering from anxiety in the classroom.
Many teachers assume that opening up can harm their reputation as a leader. But in fact, this is often not the case. Sharing your experiences and raising awareness around anxiety will show you to be an empathetic, insightful teacher. Not all students suffering with anxiety will appreciate one- to-one advice. But if you present information to the whole class, they are far more likely to engage, respond and feel comfortable.
3. Promote gratitude
When suffering with anxiety, it can often be difficult to focus on the positives in life. Especially if the very thought of coming to school leads to panic. For some anxiety sufferers, just leaving the house can be a challenge. Whilst you as a teacher aren’t the sole solution to anxiety problems, you can embrace positivity in the classroom. For a student suffering with anxiety, the classroom should be made to be as positive an environment as possible.
One of the ways to embrace and encourage positivity is to promote gratitude. Asking your students to write down one thing that they are grateful for every lesson can help anxiety sufferers from getting bogged down in negativity. It’s not an all-encompassing solution, but it will have a positive impact — not only for students feeling the negative impacts of anxiety.
4. Make accommodations
It is often difficult to make accommodations that please everyone in your classroom. But there are simple steps you can take to make your classroom a more pleasant place to be for students suffering from anxiety. Anxious pupils perform best in a calm place where they feel comfortable.
Knowing what to expect each day can ease the pain of being an environment that isn’t agreeable. Here are a few simple ways you can improve the lives of students with anxiety in your classroom:
Classroom seating arrangements
Many anxious students would rather sit somewhere quiet, away from the main hubbub. They will be less distracted, and find it easier to focus on their work — making their experience more comfortable.
Allow for time out
When students become increasingly anxious, they need to take a break outside of the classroom. Recommending a toilet or water break can give your students time to get some fresh air, rehydrate, and compose themselves — so they can come back to the class fresh, calm and ready for learning.
Inform anxious students about upcoming fire drills
Fire drills can be anxiety inducing at the best of times. But if your students suffer with anxiety, they can be traumatising. Make sure that they are informed well before the alarm is set to go off, and allow them to meet at the safety point a few minutes before everyone else. This is especially pertinent if your students have social anxiety. Avoiding the manic rush will reduce stress and pain.
For many student with anxiety, standing at the front of a class and presenting to tens of people is tantamount to torture. If a presentation happens to be a part of an examination, offer the option of presenting in a one-on-one environment.
Change class involvement to suit your students’ needs
Anxiety can often stop talented students from contributing in class. The fear of embarrassment can increase discomfort, which consequently discourages involvement. Giving your students social cues when you’re about to ask them a question. It is also worth asking questions that you know they understand the answer to at first so that they feel more comfortable.
5. Get out of the classroom
Getting outside of the classroom — especially on a hot clammy day — can help to reduce anxiety. Whilst it is not always possible to teach an entire class outside, taking a short break to take in the outdoors, whether it is a playground or a park, can help anxiety sufferers move their focus from their worries to something else entirely.
You can even turn it into a short session that inspires creativity and focus. Ask you students to become aware of their surroundings. How many plants are in the yard? How many planes are in the sky at any one time? How does an eagle carry its body weight flying through the air?
Changing perspectives and asking new questions can reduce anxiety, as well as challenging and inspiring your whole class.
To sum up…
There are many different approaches that you can take to make your classroom more comfortable for students with anxiety. From organising a new seating plan, to promoting gratitude, many different angles can be taken to create a more inclusive environment for students. And they don’t have to single students out. Implementing a more mindful classroom can benefit everyone.
If you are looking for more advice on teaching from Celsian Education, view our other blogs.
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